Rifle is Davi Pretto’s thought-provoking second feature film that displays the never-ending landscape of Southern Brazil. Dione is a farmhand, and ex-soldier, who left the city life to live off the land. He happens upon a rifle and decides to use it to dole out justice the way he sees fit (protecting the interests of rural farmers). We sat down with the director to discuss why he enjoys blending reality and fiction and how some happy accidents lined up so well before and during Rifle’s production.
This film felt personal. How close are these rural farmers’ stories to your story?
The project came from my co-writer, Richard Tavares. He was born in the countryside of Vacaíqua state where they lived. We were travelling through the region and talking about the situation about six years ago, then he had the very first idea for the film and invited me to direct. We were partners at our company so we had a great and long friendship. But my exact connection to the region is my interest in discovering and, in some way, retelling the story of my state. The situation of the region is totally connected to the history of my state. In Brazil, the story that is in the history books is just one side of the story, so this film is our attempt to tell a different, an alternative version or history, of the region. The history books are always saying that rich landowners were very important to build the state and they were brave and nice like heroes. What was happening since the beginning was that they were buying all the land and excluding the locals from the region.
It’s great that you could tell this story and share it with the masses.
I think Brazilian cinema is very interesting right now. Joaquim is in competition (Panorama selection), Vazante and other Brazilian films are here in Berlinale this year. There’s interest to retell the history of our country. I’m very interested to research more about it and to create the possibility for the audience to rediscover the history of my state.
You wrote your first feature Castanha by yourself. How was it collaborating with your co-writer Richard Tavares?
He is my partner [at my company] so we speak the same language. I met him when I was eight so it’s a long history. When he invited me to direct Rifle, it was supposed to be my first feature, but it took time so in the middle of the process I stopped to direct my actual first feature, Castanha. This whole time, six years writing and directing the film, was important to get in touch with the subject, the region and all the people who we met. But the process was very natural and organic with Richard. He already knew what kind of feeling he wanted. From the very beginning, I knew that it wasn’t just only a movie with a story but a movie with a certain feeling that we had to share with the audience. Richard brought that to us.
How was the casting process? Were all of the actors non-professionals?
There is just one actress who is in the very last part of the movie, the sister in the city. She is actually from Porto Alegre the city where I live. She already had several roles in movies but besides her it was everyone else’s very first experience acting. Dione and the family had never even gone to a movie theatre. Their first experience watching a movie in a theatre was when we presented the film in Brazil. We were trying to make an atmosphere for them to feel confident with themselves and their images. During pre-production, for instance, I stayed with them for six months and sometimes I brought a little camera with me. I took some images of them and edited them to show them and give them more confidence, so they could see that they could be actors like anybody else. This was the main idea, to create something with them and to make opportunities to create some work where they could be part of it. We wanted a friendly situation. It was more like a non-classical kind of shooting but it was the way we discovered to make the film.
Do you know if any of them have any aspirations to continue acting?
Dione loves movies and is watching movies all the time at home. When we invited him to make the film, he was the very first person in the family who decided to do it. He was so excited. Because the other part of the family, the father and the mother, they were in doubt about it. We discovered that a few years before he wanted to figure out how to make theatre plays. But it’s a very little city and there is not much opportunity in the region. But he is very interested in continuing in this area.
Dione was so excited right away. Why do you think the older generation was more hesitant about the film?
First of all, the younger generation has access to internet, not in the region, but when they go to school every day they have wifi and free access to internet. It’s something that the government provides to every school, so this is very important to the development of interests in movies, plays or other things. This generation before didn’t have any access to this. The only thing they had access to is television that only has mainstream things. That’s why I think the young generation is always trying to figure out different things to do, but in the meantime, it’s difficult to find opportunities. For Dione and the other guys we met, the only option that they have is working in the farms and it’s a tough job, and the salary is not so good. So they have to go to the cities but there are a lot of people so the opportunities are also not that good. It’s difficult despite having this new access provided by the internet. For these older generations, it’s basically because they didn’t have this kind of opportunity before. But during the process, the father and the mother became very excited. During the shooting they loved the crew and the process. They were discovering a lot, they never saw a camera before, never saw a movie crew working. But Dione and Andressa, the young girl, had watched a “making of” movie/DVD before so they already knew a little bit.
There is one scene where Dione encounters a man wearing a USA flag T-shirt. (We both laugh) The man pretends to throw an imaginary grenade at Dione and shoots at him just using his finger. Can you tell me more about this scene?
It’s an interesting story. During the research a lot of the stories that I heard, I added to the script. One of these stories was about this man, not this guy who appears in the film because he’s someone we invited to play the character. When I was researching, I saw a guy walking on the road alone, a guy in his own world. He seemed lost. We found out that this guy living with his sister had a mental/developmental issue. Every day he left the house to walk alone in the road, in the sun, and at the end of the day he always came back. I felt like this was a very strong story. Pico is the guy acting in the movie, and I met him in the city. He had the same thing, he has a mental disorder and he walks alone every day. When I met him I talked to him and his sister about the film. He has almost the same story as the first guy I met in the road. He was very excited when I invited him to make the film. I discovered during shooting that he loved war movies from the US, so that T-shirt was a coincidence. I told him to wear whatever he likes. He came with that US T-shirt and I said wow, that’s just perfect. And then I explained the story to him again because sometimes he forgot. When you are on the road, there are a lot of these coincidences. Even the region where we shot the film, Vacaíqua. This is a region that we discovered by chance. We were lost in the road and we gave a ride to a woman hitchhiking. It was the only person we gave a ride to, and she told us about Vacaíqua, and this is how we met the region and Dione. We were very open to these coincidences, what destiny gave us.
It’s one scene that really stands out.
It’s incredible because Pico, the actor, was so enthusiastic with the story about the rifle and we are very happy to have this coincidence in the film.
You are clearly interested in the thin line between reality and fiction, with your first film Castanha and now Rifle. Have you ever thought about shooting a pure documentary full-length film?
I already shot short documentary movies in film school. My second short film was a classic documentary. It was important to discover what I wanted to say and do in movies during that time. After I graduated, I also did another short documentary. Then two years ago, I did two documentaries for television in Brazil. So, I’m kind of always doing both sides, all the possibilities. Castanha and Rifle are not very classic fiction, but I’m also interested in classic documentary.
Have you thought about expanding any of your short films into full-length documentaries?
Not yet. Short films are an opportunity to try something and to learn something. In feature films you don’t have these opportunities because there are a lot of people and money involved so you have obligations. With short films, I’m more free to try something else. So I’m free to try more classic documentary because if you watch my short documentaries it’s not that classic. But that’s also why I don’t want to expand the stories that I did in those short films. It was a different thing for me.
Who are some filmmakers that inspire you?
Let me think. I’m a movie watcher, so I’m watching all kinds of movies all the time. I like a lot of the things that Pedro Costa does. I think he’s a very interesting filmmaker. He’s researching things that I like a lot.
You are the second filmmaker who I’ve interviewed at Berlinale who has mentioned Pedro Costa. You are in good company.
There are a lot of filmmakers in Brazil who interest me too. Adirley Queirós is a very independent and interesting filmmaker. The Spanish filmmaker José Luis Guerín is very interesting. Usually when I watch movies I’m always trying to look into film history, like in the 30s, the 40s, sometimes the 60s. When I was doing Rifle, I was watching and rewatching Westerns from the 30s, like John Ford, into the 60s like Monte Hellman.
What is your next film project?
I have two projects, but I usually don’t speak much about it because when I’m writing I change a lot of the stories. I started to write Rifle six years ago, and the story changed a lot. So now I’m writing, and I’m trying to raise some money. But I also have some projects that I’m working on as a producer. One of these projects is directed by Bruno Carboni, the editor of my two features Castanha and Rifle. We are planning to shoot his film this or next year. It will be a very interesting first feature.
It’s great that you feel comfortable wearing so many hats – director, producer, writer – and you also wrote the score for Rifle.
Yeah, the score is a funny story. I was not supposed to do that score, but I was just with the guys, and we went to the field to record the real fence wire. They were trying to play and they just asked me just play a little bit so we can test the microphones, since we added contact microphones in the fence wire. I just started playing and they started to record and this is the score that we listen to in the film.
Well, it was lovely. Thank you for sitting down with me. I enjoyed the film.